Healthy Eating & Exercise

"She's such a picky eater; I'm just grateful she eats anything!"
"All he wants to do is play video games."
"Why don't we just order pizza again?"

Sound familiar? Every parent wants their kids to grow up healthy and strong, but busy schedules and hectic lifestyles can make it a real challenge to make sure they get the proper nutrition and exercise they need.

While there's no magic formula for making lives less busy or lifestyles healthier, there are lots of small steps you and your family can take to incorporate good nutrition and physical activity into your day-to-day routine.

The first step you already know (because you're already doing it!) - that is, be informed. Know what a healthy diet for your child looks like (visit MyPyramid.gov for a personalized plan) and how much exercise he or she should be getting.

Numbers to Know

At a glance, these are some basic recommendations for raising healthy, active kids.

60 minutes - Children should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day - but it doesn't all have to be at once. You can break it up into increments of 10 minutes or more.

5 servings - While exact guidelines will vary from child to child, a good general rule is to aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. For more detailed guidelines, visit MyPyramid.gov.

2 hours - Kids should spend no more than two hours each day watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Internet for fun. These kinds of activities promote a sedentary lifestyle and are contributing factors to the rise in childhood obesity.

50 percent - Make half your grains whole grains. Complex carbohydrates are important sources of fuel for kids, so give them foods like whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice and air-popped popcorn.

Tips on Healthy Eating and Exercise

Remember, you can't overhaul your family's lifestyle in one day - but you can make gradual changes to your routine that can add up to big health benefits later on.

  1. Eat as a family. Studies have found that kids who eat family meals are more likely to get the nutrients they need from healthier foods like vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy products.
  2. Feed them breakfast. Research suggests that not having breakfast can affect children's performance in school.
  3. Increase your family's intake of plant-based foods. Build meals around vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and think of meat and other sources of fat as more of a side dish.
  4. Avoid highly processed foods. This includes most store-bought cookies, chips, crackers and other packaged snacks. Read ingredient lists to know exactly what you're giving your child. A long list of unpronounceable ingredients is a good sign the snack is high in calories and lacking in good nutrition.
  5. Make eating out a special treat, not a regular habit. Eating out tends to lead to high calorie consumption. Even if you choose a healthier, non-fast food restaurant, be mindful of overly large portions that could encourage your kids to overeat.
  6. Involve kids in meal planning and preparation. They'll be more excited to eat what you prepare if they feel like they had a hand in it.
  7. Cut out the sugary beverages. Things like soda and drink mixes are often high in calories but low in nutrition. Instead of soda, give your kids low-fat milk and water.
  8. Be active as a family. Plan vacations that center on a physical activity like hiking, swimming or skiing. Make chores around the house a good-natured competition (who can wash the most windows, pull the most weeds, clean their room the fastest).
  9. Play games. Tag, Red Light Green Light, Mother May I, Kick the Can - remember the games you played as a kid? Teach them to your children to get them outside and moving.
  10. Make video games active. If your kids can't imagine life without video games, give them active games like the Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution.

And the most important tip of all: BE A GOOD EXAMPLE. Healthy parents lead to healthy kids, so be sure to get your exercise and eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Healthy Eating and Exercise Pledge

Healthy School Lunch Ideas
Tips on how to make healthy lunchbox meals for your kids

How to Help Your Kids Be Heart-Healthy
Family-oriented information from the American Heart Association

Small Step Kids
A fun, interactive site for kids provided by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

Help Your Child Grow Up Healthy and Strong
A guide to healthy eating and exercise from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education

Healthy Recipes
Easy, tasty recipes from Mission Hospital

Dealing with Picky Eaters
Smart strategies for encouraging healthy eating